From DACA to the DREAM Act - Navigating the Path from Illegal Immigrant to U.S. Citizenship


Before we get into the numbers, argument and DREAM Act of 2017, let me explain what DACA is and what the intentions were for it when it was signed.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order, DACA as it goes by, was signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, offering young illegal immigrants the chance to apply for temporary protection from deportation for two years.

To be eligible, illegal immigrants must have entered the United States before their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007, be currently in school, a high school graduate or be honorably discharged from the military, be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three other misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security. To apply for DACA, illegal immigrants must pay a $495 application fee, submit several, and produce documents showing they meet the requirements. They do not need legal representation.

The program does not provide lawful status or even a path to citizenship, nor does it provide eligibility for federal welfare or student aid. Instead, DACA invites eligible undocumented immigration to come out of the shadows without the fear of being deported, get bio-metrics taken, get put in the system and get a social security number so they may get a job, take out a loan, open a bank account, get a credit card and in certain states apply for a driving license, among other benefits.

DACA seems to be nothing more than amnesty even though as stated by President Obama during his remarks about the implementation of DACA while standing in the Rose Garden of the White House, “... Now, let's be clear -- this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.” Herein lies the problems; these “young people” after years of being in this program, still have no option in place to becoming a legal permanent resident (green card) and/or can move toward the legal Path to Citizenship (naturalization).

The Numbers:

According to a March 31, 2017, report from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services (USCIS), on during FY2012, the first year of the program, 152,431 immigrants were accepted into the program, and 427,616 in FY2013. In FY2014, (two years later) of the 152,431 that entered the program in 2012, 122,236 (80%) applied for a renewal; of which 116,425 (76%) was approved. Of the 427,616 that entered the program in 2013, 391,548 (92%); applied for a renewal; of which 363,550 (85%) were approved in 2015.

Since the program started in 2012 until the end of the 2nd quarter FY2017, USCIS has approved 886,814 initial applications and received 952,917 renewal applications; of which 884,661 (99.7%) where approved, totaling a whopping 1,771,475 total undocumented immigrants currently benefiting from DACA.

The Argument:

Critics of DACA, which include nearly all Republicans in the House of Representatives, have derided the program as an abuse of Obama's presidential power, and voiced complaints about its broad scale, the work authorization component, and the potential for immigrants to exploit a loophole that could place them on a path to citizenship. They also charge that the President does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air, and he's done both with the DACA Executive Order as well as the Morton Memos in this respect.

In November 2014 The Obama Administration attempted to expand the DACA Executive Order that would defer the deportations of the illegal parents of those undocumented children that are eligible for the program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), a group amounted to about 3.6 million additional people

In December 2014, Texas and 25 other states sued the Obama administration over a broader immigration directive. The Obama administration also wanted to extend the DACA period to 2010.

in February 2015, a federal judge in Texas issued a national injunction to block the policies that extended the program to parents and people entering the United States between mid-2007 and 2010; the lawsuit didn’t deal directly with the DACA program. A federal appeals court added to that ruling to say that the policies exceeded President Obama’s policy-making authority and that the Executive Branch does not have the unilateral power to confer lawful presence and work authorization on unlawfully present aliens simply because the Executive chooses not to remove them,

In June 2016, the Supreme Court, in a 4-4 vote, upheld the injunction in a one-line opinion.

There have been numerous attempts by Congress to defund the DACA Program, however, in practice Congress does not have the ability to defund DACA since the program is almost entirely funded by its own application fees rather than congressional appropriations.

Immigration advocates argued that the immigrants who benefit from DACA should be treated with compassion — they were typically brought to the US by their parents at very young ages, and in many cases grew up without realizing they lived in the country illegally. DACA recipients, known frequently as "dreamers" are also required to meet certain criteria, such as never having been convicted of a felony or "significant" misdemeanor. Advocates also point to the consequences of rescinding protection and work authorization from the nearly 800,000 immigrants who depend on it. A recent study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) and the lobbying group FWD.us found that if DACA were repealed, roughly 700,000 workers would lose their jobs over the next two years, and the estimated loss of their labor could cost the country $460.3 billion in economic output over the next decade.

On June 29, 2017, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that on behalf of 10 states, he was notifying the Justice Department that they would amend a suit against the administration if it didn’t change the 2012 DACA program by September 5, 2017.

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly states how we are to define U.S. Citizenship. Section 1 states that All persons born (with a narrow exception for children of foreign diplomats) or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. For the over 1.7 million DACA program participants who do not fall within either of the above categories, a legal path to U.S. citizenship does not look reachable without additional congressional legislation. Without being citizens, these individuals also don’t fall under the protection of the U.S. Constitution in particular, no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or proper, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

DREAM Act of 2017

Since 2001 several variations of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bi-partisan piece of American immigration legislative proposal for a multi-phase process for qualifying illegal alien minors in the United States and would first grant conditional residency and upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency, has been reintroduced numerous times but failed to pass.

On July 20, 2017, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Dream Act of 2017. It is a bipartisan bill that would provide a direct road to U.S. citizenship for people who are either undocumented, have DACA or temporary protected status (TPS), and who graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college, enter the workforce, or enlist in a military program.

The Dream Act of 2017 would make the following changes to current law:

  • Grant current DACA beneficiaries permanent resident status on a conditional basis, and allow TPS beneficiaries, people with illegal immigration status, and people with final orders of removal the opportunity to apply for this same immigration status.

  • Permit conditional permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (sometimes referred to as getting a “green card”) if they go to college, have worked for a certain amount of time, or served in the U.S. military. They also would have to meet other requirements.

  • Provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship. A person would have to be in conditional permanent resident (CPR) status for 8 years before they could become eligible to apply for LPR status, and after a certain period as an LPR (probably five years), they could apply for U.S. citizenship.

  • Stay (stop) the removal proceedings of anyone who meets the Dream Act requirements and young people over 5 years of age who are enrolled in elementary or secondary school.

  • Improve college affordability for undocumented youth and other immigrants by changing rules that limit their access to in-state tuition and college loans through the repeal section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which currently discourages states from making undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition or providing them other higher education benefits.

The Dream Act of 2017 would grant recipients an initial conditional permanent resident status. To be eligible, applicants would have to:

  1. be undocumented, a DACA recipient, or a TPS beneficiary (people with final removal orders, voluntary departure orders, or who are in removal proceedings would be eligible);

  2. have entered the U.S. before the age of 18;

  3. have been continuously physically present in the U.S. since at least four years before the date of the Dream Act’s enactment;

  4. have maintained continuous presence in the U.S. until the date they apply;

  5. meet the education requirement through one of these ways:

a. they’ve been admitted to a college, university, or other institution of higher learning, or

b. they’ve earned a high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate, or

c. they are currently enrolled in a secondary education program to assist in obtaining a high school diploma or GED certificate;

  1. have not been convicted of certain criminal offenses;

  2. pass a medical exam; and

  3. pass a background check.

Applicants first would need to apply for CPR status, either through the regular process as a first-time applicant or through a potentially streamlined process for DACA recipients.

Under the 2017 Dream Act, people who’ve had CPR status for 8 years would be eligible to apply for LPR (green card) status. They would then likely have to be in LPR status for 5 years before they would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. A person cannot apply for citizenship without first adjusting to LPR status.

CPR (8 years) ⇒ LPR (5 years) ⇒ CITIZENSHIP (total of at least 13 years until eligible for citizenshi

To remove the conditional basis of their resident status and become a full-fledged LPR, the applicant would have to meet these requirements:

  1. Not have certain criminal convictions on their record.

  2. Not have abandoned their residence in the U.S.[8]

  3. Have done one of the following:

a. acquired a degree from an institution of higher education, or

b. completed at least 2 years in a bachelor’s degree program, or

c. served for at least 2 years in the uniformed services, or

d. been employed for periods totaling at least 3 years, at least 75 percent of which time was working with valid employment authorization. (If the person was not working, they must show that they were enrolled in school or an education program.)

e. a hardship exception may be available for people who do not meet at least one of the four requirements listed immediately above.

  1. Demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English and show a knowledge and understanding of U.S. civics.

  2. Pass a background check.

Because the the Obama Administration's 2012 DACA Executive Order failure to address putting the program's illegal immigrants on the path toward U.S. citizenship, I am in SUPPORT of a COMPLETE & IMMEDIATE REPEAL OF DACA. This repeal should immediately halt all processing of DACA applications allowing for additional recipients. While we cannot continue to allow immigrants to live in this country illegally, I am also under the belief that we should NOT deport all DACA recipients but instead, as long as they meet the requirements, smoothly transitioned them over to some temporary version of the DREAM Act of 2017, which if passed, would grant 1.7 million immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship within 13 years or less.

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